The Festa del Redentore is one of the most important traditional events in Venice. It celebrates the end of the plague of the 16th century and is a yearly event ever since. It takes place during the weekend of the third Sunday of July. The Festa del Redentore combines religious events, a pontoon bridge, parties with families and friends, huge fireworks and regatas. In this post, I will give you some historical background as well as practical tips to make the most out of your visit to the Festa del Redentore. The only prerequisite is that you take part in the action. It would really be a pity if you only watch it from the sideline.
Between 1575 and 1577, Venice was hit hard by the plague. The bacteria was probably brought into the city on board of one of the commercial vessels. The plague killed 50,000 people, almost one third of the total population. The most famous victim was the painter Titian, although it is not 100% sure whether he died from the plague or from another cause during that period.
In 1576, Doge Alvise Mocenigo begged God to end the plague. He promised Him to build a large church in exchange. When the plague ended in July 1577, the new Doge Sebastiano Venier honoured this promise to God and built a temporary wooden church in a couple of days. In 1578, he also started a new tradition by installing a temporary bridge for a pilgrimage across the Giudecca canal from Zattere to the church. The wooden church was later replaced by the Redentore church, named after the Redeemer.
DID YOU KNOW? The Santa Maria della Salute was built for a similar reason. This church remembers the 1630 plague in Venice.
The Redentore church
The church of the Redentore was built on the place of the former church dedicated to Santa Maria degli Angeli, which was given to the Capuchins, on the Giudecca island. Andrea Palladio designed the church and laid the first stone in May 1577. This was in fact before the end of the plague and hence an implicit adjuration to God. After Palladio’s death in 1580, the works continued under the supervision of Antonio da Ponte, the architect of the Rialto bridge. In 1592, the church was completed and consecrated by Lorenzo Priuli, Patriarch of Venice, under Doge Pasquale Cicogna.
INSIDER TIP: If you want to read a historical novel related to this topic, I can recommend ‘The Venetian Bargain’ of Marina Fiorato. When a ship enters Venice, it carries the bubonic plague as a ‘present’ from the Turkish sultan. The dogue asks Palladio to build a large church as an offering to God to rescue the city, but Palladio becomes ill. The beautiful young doctor Feyra was also on board of that ship, to escape her future as a concubine of the sultan. Will she be willing and able to cure Palladio? This is an intriguing novel with a strong woman as the main character.
The Redentore church is one of Palladio’s finest churches. The façade can be best admired from Zattere, on the other side of the Giudecca canal. Its wide staircase and huge doorway are especially designed for processions, such as the one of the Festa del Redentore. The interior is very sober, in line with the vows of poverty of the Capuchin monks.
DID YOU KNOW? The Capuchin monks owe their name to the pointed cowl (capuche in Italian) they wear.
The 2019 program of the Festa del Redentore
The festivities last a whole weekend and combine religious and fun activities. All of them are worth your visit and none should be skipped. (The exact hours can slightly differ and will be updated closer to the event.) In the next paragraphs, I will give you tips to experience each of these as an insider, so keep reading.
Saturday July 20
All day: Preparations by locals, followed by their own private dinner or party
19.00: Opening of the pontoon bridge from Zattere to Giudecca, followed by a presentation of the regata teams
23.30: Fireworks at Bacino di San Marco
Sunday July 21
16.00: Regata del Redentore at Giudecca canal
19.00: Holy mass at the Redentore church
The weekend of the Festa del Redentore is the only time that Giudecca is connected to the rest of Venice. This used to be via a bridge of barges, but it is now via a pontoon bridge made of 16 parts. The bridge is 330 meter long and 3.60 meter wide. It is put just above the water, except in the middle where small boats can pass underneath. Walking on the bridge at the same level of the church gives you a great opportunity to admire its beautiful façade.
INSIDER TIP: Take a walk across the bridge on Sunday morning to fully grasp the experience. The crowds will be less than in the afternoon.
This event is celebrated intensively by all Venetians, young and old. They start in the morning to decorate their boats with guirlandes and flags, and to load enough food and drinks for a long night with family and friends. Those who prefer a more quiet evening, put a table or a sign on the Riva (from Riva degli Schiavoni all the way up to Giardini and even Sant’Elena, and on Giudecca) to reserve a spot on the first row. From late afternoon, early evening, the Bacino gets full with all types of festive boats, from very small to big. You will never have seen so many boats together. The dinners and parties start on the boats and on the Riva in expectation of the fireworks.
INSIDER TIP: Buy some food and drinks to get through the evening and find yourself a place to sit. You might want to take a blanket to sit more comfortably on the ground. Move away from the crowds around San Marco, and take a seat at Riva dei Sette Martiri or even better, on the grass of the Rimembranze Park at Sant’Elena. The park will be transformed into a huge picnic area where you will be surrounded by Venetian families. Make sure to be on time so you still have a place to sit.
I have seen many fireworks in my life, but the one of the Festa del Rendentore is without doubt the most beautiful one. The sky above the Bacino di San Marco is lit in gold and red, the colors of the city of Venice. It is not only very impressive, but it also lasts approx. 45 minutes. This gives you plenty of time to lie down and really enjoy it.
INSIDER TIP: The fireworks are set off above the Bacino di San Marco and can be seen from a distance. There is really no need to get into the crowds at San Marco. Just stay along the Riva where you had dinner and you will enjoy it much more.
If you want a short preview of the fireworks, you can watch the show of last year on the page of Venezia Unica, the tourism agency of Venice.
Regata del Redentore
The regatas with the colorful boats take place in the Giudecca canal, with an arrival in front of the Redentore church. There are 2 races with twin-oared pupparini: 1 for youngsters (at 16.00) and 1 for men (at 16.45). The pupparin is a fast, agile boat traditionally used by maritime guards or as a barca da casada (family boat). Wider in the stern (poppa), from which it takes its name, the pupparin is generally 9 or 10 m long and can be rowed by one to four oarsmen. The main regata is the one for the twin-oared gondole (17.30), the queen of Venetian boats.
INSIDER TIP: Make sure to cross the pontoon bridge before the regata and find a place near the water and close to the church. This will not only give you a good view on the race, but you will also be surrounded by local and enthusiastic supporters, who cheer and shout loud to the boats. If you don’t know the teams, just pick a color and cheer as well.
There are also some smaller activities around the church, such as a lottery and a small market. When you go early, you will have plenty of time to walk around and get into the Redentore mood. Make sure to visit the church before the Holy Mass starts. Afterwards, you will still have plenty of time to walk around the whole island and not only along the canal, as there are plenty of beautiful areas to discover (more in my post ‘Giudecca: A peaceful island with 10 remarkable buildings’.
The Festa del Redentore is one of the few traditional events which are mainly celebrated by the Venetians. It is not so much a touristic activity. If you can, you should try to attend it at least once. And as I said at the beginning, if you had your own dinner party, you crossed the pontoon bridge and you cheered for a regata team, you will be able to say that you took part in the event instead of that you attended the event. However, once you have done so, you will also want to go back every year 🙂
The Festa del Redentore is one of the events mentioned in my post ‘19 reasons to visit Venice in 2019‘. If you want to discover the other remaining reasons for this year, click on the link to read the article. You can also subscribe to The Venice Insider newsletter, to ensure that you stay up-to-date on the upcoming events.
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